Debt and misery: the true cost of a funeral in Scotland


​Citizen's Advice calls for immediate action to stop families being plagued by unmanageable debts following funerals.

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3rd February 2016 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Families are being plunged into misery and debt due to soaring funeral costs, a new report has revealed.

Politicians and a charity have called for action after it was revealed the cost of burying loved ones is outstripping inflation.

Many low income families have no funeral savings, the Scottish Government report found, and there is a postcode lottery on charges, with costs widely varying by local authority area.

For example, the cost of a burial plot in East Dunbartonshire is £1,527, more than three times the cost of one in East Renfrewshire, which is £414.

People are struggling with low incomes and servicing unsustainable debt as well as grieving for the loss of a family member or friend

The average price of a funeral in Scotland is around £3,500, leading some families to take on “unmanageable debt”.

Figures came to light in a report by John Birrell, which was compiled by Citizen’s Advice Scotland (CAS) for the Scottish Government.

The report recommends that social security funeral payments are increased to meet the real costs of a funeral, that funeral directors are licensed so costs can be better monitored and that a Scottish funeral bond scheme is created to standardise costs and help people save.

A campaign should also be launched to get people talking about their funeral wishes, which would help families plan ahead.

Anne Lavery, chief operating officer at CAS, said: “Scottish CAB advisers have been reporting significant increases in the numbers of people coming to them for advice on funeral costs.

“In the last year alone the number of cases has risen by 35% with approximately one in every 30 funerals in Scotland resulting in someone seeking advice from Citizens Advice.

“These cases often come as part of a complex set of circumstance for the client, including struggling with low incomes, servicing unsustainable debt, struggles with family relationships and relying on crisis support, as well as grieving for the loss of a family member or friend.

“We have been working hard to raise awareness of the issue, and so were delighted to be asked to work on this report by the Scottish Government.

“If implemented, the recommendations contained within the report, will help to ensure Scottish families are more able to organise a respectful funeral at an affordable price.”

The Scottish Government has said it will speed up the decision time on funeral payments after it received the powers through the Scotland bill and it will also organise a national conference on funeral poverty and consider the funeral bond scheme.

Social justice secretary Alex Neil said: "Our new powers over funeral payments will give us the opportunity to set up a benefit which is simpler and more streamlined.

"Speeding up the application process will help bereaved people know if they will receive a funeral payment, and we believe it will create more certainty for funeral directors, allowing them to give appropriate advice and potentially eliminating the need to take a deposit from those who make a successful application."